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Hydrology and geochemistry of a surface coal mine in northwestern Colorado

January 10, 1995

The hydrology and geochemistry of a reclaimed coal mine in northwestern Colorado were monitored during water years 1988 and 1989. Some data also were collected in water years 1987 and 1990. This report describes (1) the sources of hydrologic recharge to and discharge from reclaimed spoil, (2) the relative contributions of recharge to the reclaimed spoil aquifer from identified source waters and the rate of water movement from those sources to the reclaimed spoil, and (3) the geochemical reactions that control water quality in reclaimed spoil. The study area was at a dip-slope coal mine encompassing about 7 square miles with land slopes of varying aspect. The area was instrumented and monitored at five sites; two sites had unmined and reclaimed- spoil areas adjacent to each other and three sites were unmined. The mined areas had been reclaimed. Instrumentation at the study sites included 1 climate station, 3 rain gages, 19 soil-water access tubes, 2 lysimeters, 18 wells completed in bedrock, 7 wells completed in reclaimed spoil, and 2 surface- water gaging stations. The results of the study indicate that the reclaimed spoil is recharged from surface recharge and underburden aquifers. Discharge, as measured by lysimeters, was about 3 inches per year and occurred during and after snowmelt. Hydraulic-head measurements indicated a potential for ground-water movement from deeper to shallower aquifers. Water levels rose in the reclaimed-spoil aquifer and spring discharge at the toe of the spoil slopes increased rapidly in response to snowmelt. Water chemistry, stable isotopes, geochemical models, and mass-balance calculations indicate that surface recharge and the underburden aquifers each contribute about 50 percent of the water to the reclaimed-spoil aquifers. Geochemical information indicates that pyrite oxidation and dissolution of carbonate and efflorescent sulfate minerals control the water chemistry of the reclaimed-spoil aquifer.